Are you quick to make decisions by weighing up the pros and cons and get on with it? Or are you someone who takes their time, considering multiple decisions and going back and forth until a decision has to be made? Most of us have a natural preference when it comes to the pace of decision making. Making better decisions is not just about pace (there is a time and place for fast, confident decisions), it’s also about applying skills and a process that includes critical thinking (CT).
Why is it critical?
‘Critical Thinking will become the second most important skill for employees by 2020’ says the World Economic Forum in 2016 ‘Future of Jobs’ report. We have moved from the manual worker in the industrial revolution to the knowledge worker in the digital revolution. People are increasingly using their heads not their hands at work, which is only one reason critical thinking is demand today more than ever before.
When you ask leaders if they practice critical thinking, the answer is probably ‘yes, of course’. But when you define the skill and pressure test it, the reality looks different.
One of best critical thinkers I have worked with a senior leader in the aviation industry. She basically questions EVERYTHING, including her own assumptions. She has a process of ‘pressure testing’ her team’s arguments so that when she gets challenged in the boardroom, her critical thinking makes the strategies stand solid. It doesn’t just make her look good, it also has a positive effect on her team and creates a critical thinking culture.
What’s going wrong?
Given the ever-increasing time pressure everyone is under, leaders often jump to conclusions as long as there is a reason or evidence, but they fail to reason through these pressing issues. Or they chose the evidence that supports their already formed beliefs which, of course, are their implicit biases. Paul Gibbons in his book ‘Impact’ goes a step further and says: ‘While debiasing sounds as if it’s about thinking, people do their best thinking when centred, mindful and emotionally safe. So paradoxically in our technological age, thinking better depends on emotions.’
Critical Thinking is Being
Gibbons sees the foundation of critical thinking as ‘being’ before ‘thinking’. It’s just as important to have the right attributes and soft skills as having a process. He states that critical thinkers are reflective, self-aware, disciplined, active, sceptical, liberated, humble, agnostic, statistical and scientific. I encourage you to consider a gab analysis in your team or business and apply relevant training and coaching in some of these areas.
Why is critical thinking important?
Critical thinking doesn’t only help us make better decisions, it also helps us approach problems in different ways, instead of relying on a single approach. It makes us better and more inclusive leaders as we appreciate other peoples’ views and ideas which in turn empowers our teams. Critical thinking, whilst a process of reasoning through logic, saves time as we teach ourselves how to filter and prioritise essential information. Critical thinking makes us better listeners, solve problems more effectively and achieve the best results.
“In light of the future of work and AI, critical thinking is invaluable to govern smart machines.” – Paul Gibbons
Critical Thinking Skills
- Diversify thought. Consider other people’s experiences and opinions and recognise and question all possible conclusions before making a decision. You don’t have to be right all the time. Accept other options that might not agree with your own preconceived ideas.
- Self-regulation. Leave your emotions out of the equation. Approach arguments and conversations with objectivity and focus on the issue at hand. You are making a decision and solving a problem and whilst that most likely impacts people and yourself, it’s ‘just a problem’.
- Ask questions and listen well. Before jumping to conclusions, ask open questions to determine what something means and what is being communicated. Ask open questions to interpret and listen to understand, not to reply. Create space in your mind to take on information, content, diagrams, behaviours and verbal cue before categorising and judging.
- Question assumptions. Question all possible outcomes and arguments. Explore arguments on a deeper level and ask to see evidence of the possible solutions and outcomes. Analytical skills strive to identify all the assumptions, reasons, themes, and evidence used in making an argument or explanation. It’s like pressure-testing assumptions and arguments and evaluating if they hold.
- Reason through logic. Pay close attention to the chain of logic constructed by a particular argument. Evaluate if the argument is supported by evidence at every point. Are all pieces of evidence built on each other to produce a sound conclusion?
- Inference. Consider consequences for various options and evaluate if those consequences are certain, probably or possible. While sound inference relies on accurate information, we have to draw conclusions from what we have, e.g. hypothesis or analogical reasoning.
- Whilst critical thinking sounds complex, it’s a crucial skill in everyone’s team and business. Maybe if we replace ‘critical’ with ‘smart’ and become smarter thinkers and better decision makers, we can get more buy from people around us.
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